Joy Hack Your Job: Three Reasons You Hate Your Job and How to Change That Right Now!

You’re basking in the sunshine on a tropical beach cradling a fruity drink in your hand, the sound of waves lulling you into oblivion when suddenly you hear a BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

It’s 6:15 a.m. Monday morning. How do you feel? Are you pumped to tackle new problems this week or do you dread returning to the grind?

There’s a reason for your motivation, or lack thereof, and something you can do to change that in the next five minutes.

According to psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan there are three reasons why you either love or hate your job, and why your students may love or hate theirs too. The best part of their theory is that the three reasons are completely malleable and can be used to make your job a joy or bring greater passion to your purpose. Here’s how:

Reason 1: You know your stuff (AKA: Competence)

The first reason why you love/hate your job is related to your feelings of competence. How do you see yourself in your current role? Are you an expert? Do others seek you out when they need help? If you feel as if you are knowledgeable and are actively seeking out information to make you the top of your field then you’ve mastered reason one: Competence.

A feeling of competence comes from the intrinsic desire to improve and is often paired with a drive towards a particular field of work or study. Folks who are competent are constantly trying to up their game. If you feel competent you are often secure with your work and have some sense of the outcome of your efforts and can therefore guarantee the results from your hard work which leads to a greater sense of efficacy.

Do you attend workshops, read books or listen to podcasts related to your field? Do you spend time during the day seeking out the knowledge and insight of others? Do you have a mentor in the same industry who you can grab coffee with once a quarter and talk shop? Are you starting to see connections between the latest fiction book you read and your 9–5 gig? If so, you are growing your competence in new and creative ways.

Teachers can grow their students’ competence by creatively structuring classroom activities where students become experts in a domain and demonstrate that expertise during structured activities such as jigsaws or fishbowls.

Reason 2: You have free rein to show your stuff (AKA: Autonomy)

The second thing all people who love their work have in common is their ability to hold the reins when it comes to their work. You don’t have to work independently to have a sense of autonomy but you do need to have the feeling that you are in charge of your work and your outcomes. You should feel as if you have a say about how and when you do your work, and that if you wish to pivot on a project after some learned experience you have the freedom to do so.

Often times people don’t have a sense of autonomy because they have not yet asked for it. Ask yourself about the last project/class/assignment you completed. Did you feel as if you had a say in the outcome? If the answer is yes, then congratulations you have autonomy! If not, it’s time to think about why.

A feeling of autonomy means that you have the competence to take on projects in your own way, giving your own unique spin to the task at hand. Barring a micro-manager for an editor/boss/professor, you can begin feeling autonomous right now.

What would happen if the next time you were tasked with a project or assignment you tried to put your own creative stamp on the work? I’m not suggesting an interpretive dance in place of a research brief, but what if instead of your editor/boss/professor handing you the overarching question you tried to make it your own?

If you are a teacher why not offer students autonomy to create their own take on a project by having a say in the guiding question they address, the mode of inquiry, or the next area of study? Allowing students to take ownership of their work increases motivation and often times allows for more creative problem solving.

Reason 3: Your expertise connects you to others in meaningful way (AKA Relatedness)

What is your routine as you begin each new day? Do you wave hello at neighbors on your way to work? Do you drink your coffee with colleagues before starting work each day? If you work from home do you have a daily check in with colleagues to touch base about goals and tasks? Believe it or not, your feelings of connection to others weighs heavily on your feelings about your work in general. That’s why the last reason is relatedness, or the ability to feel connected to others as you tackle each new day.

People who feel as if they are connected to others are more likely to feel a sense of satisfaction in their work. It’s more than knowing that your role in marketing is supporting Susie’s ability to meet a sales deadline, it’s knowing that you support each other as a team.

Think for a moment about the people with whom you interact each day. Who are they? What do your interactions look like? What do you know about them already and what would you like to know? Getting to know those around you aids in growing a sense of belonging and a feeling of community. It grows empathy and perspective taking. A sense of relatedness is essential to productive communication skills and the ability to be respectful of others.

Teachers can foster a sense of relatedness in the classroom through a variety of activities ranging from “Find Someone Who” where students find out things about their classmates that will connect them in new and meaningful ways to hosting a lunch bunch where students have small group experiences to get to know classmates and teachers in a low stakes environment.

So what are you waiting for?

What can you do today to make you feel more competent in your work? Are there TED Talks that will inspire you, podcasts that will excite you, or professional development books that will bring your work to the next level?

There are a host of ways in which you can up your game starting right now. So what are you waiting for?


Lindsay Portnoy is an educational psychologist and co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer at Killer Snails, a gaming company that uses extreme creatures of nature to build immersive and engaging learning experiences aligned to meaningful assessments that support educators.

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